Criminal Justice

Lawyers Testify They Were Duped by Fake Attorney

Three lawyers testifying in the North Dakota trial of a nonlawyer accused of practicing law said they were duped into believing he had a law license because of his apparent expertise.

Prosecutors claim nonlawyer Howard Kieffer worked on federal cases in at least 10 states and appeared at seminars throughout the country to speak on sentencing, the Associated Press reports. He is being tried in a Bismarck, N.D., federal court on charges of mail fraud and making false statements in impersonating a lawyer, according to the story.

One of Kieffer’s clients was a former St. Louis Blues hockey player who pleaded guilty to plotting to kill his agent, the story says. Court records indicate Kieffer represented at least 18 federal defendants, filing motions in 12 states, the ABA Journal reports in an April feature. In 2007 and 2008 alone, he earned at least $92,000 in legal fees, according to court records.

Bismarck lawyer Chad McCabe testified he met Kieffer in Phoenix two years ago at a seminar for lawyers, the AP story says. McCabe said he agreed to vouch for Kieffer on an application to practice law in North Dakota “out of the goodness of my heart.”

“The presumption was he was an attorney,” McCabe said. “He promoted himself as a knowledgeable professional about federal law.”

Lawyer Rick Mattox of Prior Lake, Minn., said he vouched for Kieffer on an application to practice in Minnesota, according to the story. “He was more knowledgeable than myself on federal sentencing guidelines,” Mattox said.

Mattox’s name appears on two pro hac vice applications Kieffer filed, according to the ABA Journal.

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said the case has forced federal courts to review their procedures for admitting lawyers to practice, according to a separate Associated Press story.

Few federal courts verify information provided by out-of-state counsel in pro hac vice motions or circuit bar applications, according to an ABA Journal Web extra. The procedures vary by court.

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